Eating sauerkraut or drinking kombucha – and the beneficial bacteria it contains – has been known to improve gut health and digestion. But research shows that friendly bacteria, or probiotics, may reduce the risk of cancer, too.
According to a study in the International Journal of Cancer, probiotics can stimulate the body’s immune system.
How? In a process that’s believed to slow down the unhealthy build-up of toxins in the body. When left unchecked, toxins can lead to cell mutations and, ultimately, cancer.
The typical Western diet that most people consume in the United States may itself be a risk factor for cancer, according to researchers. They took into account rates of breast cancer in the U.S. and factored in daily food intake and nutrition.
“Although genetic predisposition plays a role, accumulating epidemiological and experimental data also link an unhealthy diet and obesity with postmenopausal mammary cancer occurrence and growth,” says the International Journal of Cancer study.
In other words, our diets may be slowly killing us. Yet changes to typical food intake may disrupt the pattern. And the study found significant benefits of diets with higher amounts of probiotics, according to results in mice.
Benefits of Good Bacteria
The medical community refers to probiotics as the “good bacteria,” and they’re vital to maintaining health and wellness. Your body, especially your digestive system, requires good bacteria to function properly.
Now, research is pointing to other benefits of healthy bacteria – including the potential for reduced cancer risk.
In the International Journal of Cancer study, researchers studied one particular strain of bacteria, known as L. reuteri, that can be isolated from human milk.
And previous studies have shown L. reuteri to reduce inflammation. Better yet, it can easily be cultivated, which makes it simple to grow and administer.
The researchers set out to tackle a common and increasingly widespread problem – that is, how to counteract the unhealthy effects of obesity and rates of breast cancer among the female population.
During the study, the researchers compared two groups of animals. They fed one a high-fat diet that was supplemented with L. reuteri. And they fed the other group a regular diet without the extra probiotics.
Mice on the fast-food-style Western diet had a “remarkably increased” risk of warning signs of breast cancer, says the study. This link persists in humans, as well. “Obesity-inducing diets promote mammary cancer in both humans and mice,” says the study.
Yet the researchers discovered a positive effect on cancer risk among the mice given the probiotic supplements.
The researchers discovered enhanced immune activity, fewer markers of cancer and, overall, a healthier animal.
“This leads us to conclude that consuming fermentative microbes such as L. reuteri may offer a tractable public health approach to help counteract the accumulated dietary and genetic carcinogenic events integral in the Westernized diet and lifestyle,” says the study.
The study concludes that L. reuteri’s positive impact on the immune system kicks off a series of beneficial health outcomes within the body.